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The Sabarimala Conundrum: Absurd Customs Need To Evolve With Time

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There was a recent article in the Deccan Chronicle about the origins of the Sabarimala temple and the legend of Lord Ayyappa in which eminent historian MGS Narayanan has mentioned that the Sabarimala temple came into prominence after an arson in 1950 and the name Ayyappa originated from the ‘Ayyanar’ concept that prevailed in the 10th century Tamil Nadu villages. Those villagers used to worship a local legendary warrior called ‘Ayyan’ meaning the one who protects. The article is actually an eyeopener to the myths and stories that have transformed Sabarimala from a local village temple into a money spinning machine that is in the eye of the storm now.

There is another video about Lord Ayyappa in which Girish Kumar, a proponent of tantrasashtra, an ancient and renowned method of self realization, has decoded two aspects about the legend. One is about the position in which Ayyappa is shown to be sitting, with a piece of cloth tied around his legs. According to yoga shashtra, this is a position called “yoga pattaasanam” which is used to sit in penance for a long time and the cloth is an indispensable part of the yogic position. The second is about the story of Ayyappa being born to Shiva and Vishnu. The story stretches back to the time of the churning of the ocean of milk (which we now understand as the creation of the Milky Way). The devas (Gods) and asuras (Demons) joined hands in the churning process from which the pot of ‘Amruth’ or divine nectar emerged into the hands of the asuras. The devas obviously wanted to obtain it so they approached Vishnu for help who disguised himself as a celestial beauty to entice the asuras and distract them so that the devas could steal it. This story got extended to where Shiva fell in love with this disguise of Vishnu and a child ensued from the thigh of Vishnu and that child is Ayyappa. Girish Kumar has dismissed the birth story of Ayyappa with a deeper meaning associated with yoga and the flow of energy in our body. He essentially says the one who has full control over the 5 chakras in his body is the one who should be termed as Ayyappa, and that Shiva and Vishnu are just representations of the male and female energies just like the concept of yin and yang in China.

Ancient Indian texts and specifically the Puranas abound with the stories of mythological gods. Just like Asgard of Viking folklore and Mount Olympus of the Greeks, there is Indraloka (the abode of Indra) in Indian mythology where entities with the abilities to control and manipulate the five elements and the energy of the Universe reside. But the entire cosmos is created, maintained and destroyed by the Trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara (Shiva). Of these three, only Shiva has been most widely worshipped, by all other Gods, demons and humans alike because he handles the most intense task of destroying the universe in such a way that a new universe can be created again. This is why he has control over maximum energy of the cosmos and also over both fire and water. Fire because it burns everything and cleanses without itself getting dirty and then water to start life again. Trimurti is symbolic of stability as is Shiva’s Trident (similar to Poseidon’s Trident in Greek mythology) just like the 3 primary colours, the 3-pin electric plug and the tripod stand.

Sabarimala Temple

After the ancient texts were written, they were extended to add more gods over time and that is how it has grown to a staggering 33 crore gods. There were many good men and women on whom divinity was bestowed over the course of time. Legends and stories were tied to their lives and thus were given the godly status. Gautam Buddha and even Shirdi Sai Baba are examples of this. Facts and stories merge with time to such an extent that it becomes impossible to separate them. So Ayyan was a village hero who was looked up to by the people. Then his stories became legends which were then tied to the stories of the Gods in the Puranas and that is how he attained divinity and acquired the name of Ayyappa.

Cut to the present crisis at Sabarimala; it can be resolved with a few simple questions. Can anyone prove that Ayyappa himself created all the rules and rituals at Sabarimala? Did he mention that menstruating women should not enter the temple? Is there any written proof of any of this? All of these customs were created by people over time. Irrespective of which temple, don’t visit temples during their menstruation cycle. But at other times, women have access to all temples. Then why not to Sabarimala is the question they are asking. It all comes down to the 41 days’ abstention period men undertake before going to Sabarimala. But why just to Sabarimala and not to other temples? Has Ayyappa himself created this diktat? I had written an article earlier about how the Supreme Court could have given a more balanced judgment.

There is a similar tragic situation in Kerala which needs to be mentioned here. KJ Yesudas, the renowned singer from Kerala who has sung in almost every language in India is an ardent devotee of Lord Krishna and has sung many of the songs that get played in temples. But he has never been given access to enter Guruvayur temple because he is a Christian. The absurdity is in the fact that his voice can have access to the temple’s sanctum sanctorum but not his body. What if Krishna himself came one day and sat inside the temple? Will people have the temerity to tell him that you can hear the voice of Yesudas but he cannot come inside because he is a Christian? What does Krishna have to do with Christianity and all the societal rules we have created and are still holding on to?

The sheer stupidity of human customs and mindset is beyond comprehension. People are resorting to violence now in Kerala because of the Supreme Court order which is very simple. Women wanted equal access to Sabarimala like all other temples which the Court could not refuse. Now the rest is up to the people themselves. Women who don’t want to go need not go. Kerala government has no option but to implement the court’s order. Hindu nationalists led by the RSS are opposing it on the ground. They forced and pulled down the working of the state machinery yesterday in this name in addition to stoning buses and causing destruction of public infrastructure. Is Ayyappa asking all of this to be done in his name? All parties involved in this conundrum are trying to extract political or some other mileage out of it. Divinity is only namesake and it is all about vested interests.

The latest news to come out is that Mala Araya community are reclaiming their rights and privileges on Sabarimala that were taken away from them in 1950 when the Travancore Devaswom Board was formed. Another author and historian A Sreedhara Menon has claimed in his book about Sabarimala having deep rooted connections with Buddhist ideologies. All of these goes to show that the hype around Sabarimala was built up after 1950 and the entire myth of Ayyappa was inflated to attract hordes of devotees.

No one should get fooled by the situation at Sabarimala. If the state government wanted to really implement the SC order, they could have chased away the protesters. If the protesters do not want the SC order to be implemented they should have had opposed it fiercely when the issue was in court. Both sides are playing the one upmanship game and trying to extract political brownie points out of the situation.

Religious beliefs and traditions are steeped in emotions and sentiments whereas courts depend on evidence, situations and merits of arguments to pronounce judgements. They lie on diametrically opposite sides of the society’s periphery. After the triple talaq dilemma and now this issue, in India’s complex and diverse society we need to really look at whether the courts should get involved in such issues. There is no point in wasting the judiciary’s time, then oppose its judgements with disdain and make it look like a toothless entity. History is proof of the fact that there was a court order to protect the contentious Babri Masjid and what transpired after that. It is high time people stopped themselves from getting exploited for their votes.

I have taken time to write all of this down because I want to request people to use their logic and commonsense and not give any attention to what is going on now at Sabarimala. This is all about customs and traditions and both have to evolve and change with time.

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